Over the coming weeks, Penn students must decide whether they will be learning from home or at school next semester. During an already stressful time, Penn's cancellation policy for housing does its students no favors.
For most students who received their spring on-campus housing assignments on Oct. 31, they must confirm or request to cancel their housing assignments by noon on Nov. 20. If they decide to cancel after this date, they have to pay a fine of $500. After Jan. 19, students will no longer be able to cancel their assignments.
Enforcing this deadline so soon places enormous pressure on students to make a housing decision quickly. To allow for a more flexible decision-making process, Penn should extend the housing deadline until the beginning of the spring semester.
While a Nov. 20 housing deadline might be reasonable in a normal semester, the pandemic has added a large layer of nuance to housing choices. The unique nature of the upcoming semester means there are many factors students must take into account when deciding whether to live on campus. To name a few, Penn students must think about how living on campus would affect one's mental health, friendships, and the health of the West Philadelphia community as a whole. These factors provide good reason for the University to give its students more time to think about their decision by extending the housing deadline.
The lack of knowledge about the spring semester serves as another reason for the need to extend the housing deadline. While Penn's student body knows that the spring semester will consist of mostly online classes, much remains unknown. It is not clear what specific campus spaces, such as libraries, will open, and to what extent they will be in use. Additionally, Philadelphia's recent COVID spike and corresponding reinstatement of restrictions create even more uncertainty as to the city's public health situation. Having a critical housing deadline slated for later this week is no way to handle such uncertainty.
Furthermore, extending the deadline would help to mitigate inevitable inequalities in the housing process. Given the aforementioned $500 fee for canceling, the strict nature of the deadline effectively depends on one's personal financial situation. As a result, a two-tiered system is created, with those who are able to pay such a fee allowed to cancel at a later date than those who aren't. Such an inequitable policy particularly harms FGLI students, many of whom are facing unique challenges stemming from remote learning.
Housing decisions are tough enough in normal years. In the age of COVID, choosing the right place to live has become an exponentially harder task. The University should therefore do all it can to ease the pressure on students to make a quick decision. Extending the housing deadline is the best way to do this.
Editorials represent the majority view of members of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. Editorial Board, which meets regularly to discuss issues relevant to Penn's campus. Participants in these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on related topics.
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